Insight of the Week: Marketing Is Both Internal and External

For many marketing professionals, it’s easy to focus on one target audience above all: the customer. After all, it’s customers that buy products and services, drive sales and revenue growth, and form the target audience for most marketing, right?
New research from a team of American business schools indicates that a marketing professional may actually have more sway over groups other than customers, including internal team members and even partner businesses, than the customers themselves.
This week’s insight: When reaching out, keep in mind that your message might be received more effectively by different groups—and they may not be the groups you expect.
Research study: “Does the Customer Matter Most? Exploring Strategic Frontline Employees’ Influence of Customers, the Internal Business Team, and External Business Partners” by Christopher R. Plouffe, Willy Bolander, Joseph A. Cote, and Bryan Hochstein, Journal of Marketing In-Press, https://journals.ama.org/doi/abs/10.1509/jm.14.0192
What they did: Researchers studied so-called “strategic frontline employees” and how they communicated with three key audiences: customers, colleagues, and partner businesses. They then studied how effective each outreach was in terms of the employee’s overall performance.
What they found: Even the research team admitted the outcome here was surprising. After studying the three different forms of outreach and their relative impact, they found that these “frontline employees” actually had more positive influence over their own colleagues and partner businesses than they did their actual customers.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the outreach to customers was a waste of time and effort. Rather, these frontline employees seemed to see a more positive professional outcome when reaching out to colleagues and fellow businesses than when reaching out to their customer base. Perhaps getting internal buy-in and support for ideas is simply easier than getting customer loyalty or participation, or perhaps the employees are utilizing different tactics when reaching out to internal or professional colleagues rather than their customers. But clearly this study points out the possibility that whatever outreach is being used internally might be worth considering externally, too.

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